Monday, June 15, 2009

Viva Italia

Long weekend in Germany = another country off our checklist. This time Italy. We were torn between heading north to the German coast or heading south to Italy. When we found out that our friends Nadine and Mathias were headed to Molveno, Italy for a few days, we decided to tag along for some camping and hiking. Mathias and Nadine are paragliding enthusiasts and take advantage of every weekend to feed their passion. They'd already been to Molveno numerous times - a popular place with paragliders because of its location in the Dolomites alps.

Besides paragliding, another really cool thing about Mathias and Nadine is that they own a completely restored 1966 VW Camper Van. My dream. As I lay in our chilly little tent, I zipped the flap down so I could stare enviously at the warm glow emanating from the VW - knowing that they were sleeping on a mattress with custom-made pillows to match the curtains. Sigh.

The next morning we got up early and hiked to the top of the alp that Mathias and Nadine were using as a jumping off point. It was a decent-sized hike and I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Thomas keeps me firmly on a "need to know basis" when it comes to hiking. He's big on the "It's not too steep, it won't take too long" trail descriptions. Because he knows that once he has me halfway up, I won't wuss out. Lucky for me, we made lots of photo stops because the scenery was just so outstandingly beautiful. And, of course, we had lunch at the top. But instead of Kasespaetzel and beer, it being Italy and all, we had polenta. And wine. Nice.

After lunch, we got to watch Mathias and Nadine do their thing. How one trusts a piece of fabric and some strings to hold you up when you are higher than the highest alp is beyond my comprehension. Practically beyond my imagination. They were so, so, so high. Thomas' pictures are misleading but know this - he was using a super, duper long lens. Those kids were make me sick in my stomach just watching high.

On Saturday we packed up our tent and headed to Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, to celebrate my birthday - hotel style. We spent the time seeing the sights - the Roman amphitheater which was gearing up for a production of Aida, romantic Piazza after romantic Piazza, narrow alleys, Medieval castles and inspiring churches. That night we serendipitously found a great place for dinner, shared a bottle of wine, shared our three course meal and then stopped (twice) for gelato on the way back to the hotel. Sweet.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day Zwei

Okay. I have sorted this out. The reason that I couldn't understand anything yesterday is that in my class of 18 people, there are 16 different countries represented. Each with their unique way of pronouncing German. I had not had time to acclimate myself to the individual accents. Now I am starting to figure it out. The woman from Columbia runs every word together without pause. The girl from Spain can't make the "sch" sound. I can't make the "cht" sound. And so on, and so on, and so on. It's a comedy of vocal errors.

I sit next to a girl from China who is a super-smart, classic over-achiever. She's completed the vocabulary worksheets for the entire class the first night. That's approximately 500 words, folks. I did only the requisite 25. She understands grammar. She studies grammer - oops there I go again - grammar. But god love her, I can't understand a thing she says. She has a hard time with "r's" and adds a vowel at the end of every word. This is not good as we are always together for partner exercises. It goes something like this...

China- DasE istE einE HotES Fahhat.
Me - Wie bitte?
China - DASE istE einE HOTES FahhAT.
Me - Noch einmal, bitte?
China (with frustrated hand-waving) - DASE ISTE EINE HOTES FAHHHHAT. FAHHHHAT!
We move on to pictures and pointing.
Alexia - Ohhhh! Das ist ein rotes Fahrrad (that is a red bike)??
China - Ja! Ja! Das habe ich gesagt (that's what I said).

And it goes on like that for most of the class. The girl from France can barely understand the guy from Iraq. The girl from India plays the same call and repeat game with the woman from Russia and the teacher tries to remain patient as she corrects us all. We are a speech pathologist's nightmare.

Okay, I have to go finish my homework. Yeah, that's what I said. Homework. People over 40 should never have to utter the word homework unless it is to one of their children followed by useless threats. Homework does not get easier with age. Homework STILL sucks.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lunchbox Packed

Today was my first day of German school. Four hours a day. Five days a week. My head hurts. I am old. I have not kept my brain oiled with Sudoku and such. Instead, I have petrified my brain with InTouch Weekly and such.

I do not understand English grammar. I do not even know how to spell grammar (thank god for spell check). How I ask, how??? am I to understand the difference between the Accusative case and the Dative case? And why, I ask why??? does every German verb have 50 different variables? Why do nouns have to be masculine, feminine and neuter? Why can't they just BE? Haven't we, as civilized humans, moved beyond that need to slot everything into a neat little category? And how can a Bikini possibly be a masculine noun while a tie "die Krawatte" is a feminine noun? Unless, that is, you refer to a tie as der Schlips and then we're right back on the masculine track. If you love me, you will send me Advil. Lots and lots of Advil.

I did the first level of the class at home via a self-study program. I had Nutella nearby in case I needed to kick-start my brain, I had warm slippers and hot tea, and the best part - nobody EVER called on me. That, my friends, has changed. Most of the people in the class took the first level together so they've already spent two months together. I am the new girl. So while they were busy chatting (in German) about their weekend, I was busy trying to cherry-pick out words that I know like "das Wochenende." Yup, I know, even a moron could figure that one out. I believe I am one step beyond Moron level. I'm not quite sure what that translates to on the Goethe Institute scale but I see an aspirin addiction in my future.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Berlin - Bring It Baby.

This was my second trip to Berlin. The first time, Thomas' best friend Marc gave us a great whirlwind city tour of the top sights complete with a stop for that Berlin specialty - the Currywurst. This time, we spent the whole weekend with Thomas' Aunt Gabi and his cousin, Carsten. And we had a blast.

How exactly is Berlin different than Munich? It's hard to describe except that, to me, Berlin feels more like a proper city. And Munich feels more like a postcard city. There is seemingly more diversity in Berlin (along with more poverty) but also more of an appetite for life. I felt like the energy was completely different than Munich - of course, this could have been influenced by the numerous caipis I consumed while there. But more on that later...

Berlin has a strong bohemian artist community, a great music/club scene, museums, architecture, cafes, shopping. It's bigger, it's dirtier, it's louder, it's crazier, it's funkier, it's cooler - it's just different than Munich. And I love it.

The annual Karnival der Kulturen was taking place while we were there and we spent the entire day at the massive street fair. Caipi in hand. Or Corona. Or Prosecco bottle. Pick your own poison. The event boasts a parade that lasts over six hours with representation from every continent. There were Brazilian dancers, rasta guys, Thia, Indian, you name it they had it. All along the streets (and rooftops) every kind of person imaginable was celebrating life by dancing, drinking, eating, smiling, laughing. Girls pulling up their skirts to pee behind bushes, dogs underfoot searching for dropped delicacies, kids on shoulders, crazies collecting bottles, teenagers flirting, adults flaunting flabby tattoos. Great. Just great.

We had a very NYish asian fusion dinner while there (oh, how I miss my spicy girl roll), had a coffee under the Deutscher Dom, met Thomas's sorta' kinda' cousin Franziska and her boyfriend Uwe for a yummy Italian dinner. And basically filled in all the spaces with lots and lots of walking. On our last night, we were fortunate enough to be the last group of people allowed into the Reichstag Building and despite the rain, Thomas managed to get some nice shots.

Reichstag at night.